As far as Christmas traditions go, the Christmas Pickles could possibly be the weirdest.
Legends have it that when Germans decorate Christmas Trees, the very last item they hang on it is a pickle. Usually made from shiny or matte green glass rather than cucumbers, a Christmas Pickle is much more than just a decoration.
The Christmas Pickles tradition goes that the first kid that finds the pickles hidden in the branches either gets to be the first to open presents or receives a special gift. The child is also believed to get good luck for the year to come.
The idea behind this tradition is to keep children from rushing to the presents, so they can learn to appreciate each gift they received.
This tradition is so prevalent in the holiday season, and if you ask someone from the American Midwest, they’ll most likely tell its German festive custom. On the other hand, a German will have no idea what you’re on about because it might not really be the case.
In a 2016 market research by YouGov, a survey that involved German nationals, only 8 percent knew about the Christmas pickle tradition attributed to their country, and only 2 percent said they actually practice it.
A spokesperson for Old World Christmas, a company that specializes in traditional, mouthblown glass ornaments (including Christmas Pickle), said that the pickle ornament has been their bestselling item for the last 37 years, with over 25,000 selling in 2017.
The spokesperson added that the company founder, Tim Merck, wrote about the company’s pickle tradition. Still, it’s unknown whether he learned it in Germany or if it was just an entirely new tale he concocted.
According to Silke-Maria Weineck, a professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, the pickle tradition doesn’t really seem like a German Christmas tradition. She’s originally from Germany, and she claims, “German Christmas traditions are pretty solemn.”
She added that though cultures vary in different parts of the country, hiding a pickle could have been a practice in just one region of Germany.
“It could have been one immigrant family’s tradition, for all we know.”
“I could also imagine that we were originally dealing with an actual pickle prepared for the holidays. Americans are notoriously quick to claim something is ‘a tradition.'”
The Why Christmas website offers even more unique stories on how the pickle tradition came to be. For instance, one in which a Civil War prisoner from Germany survived by eating a pickle while in jail.
Another old legend claims St. Nicholas brought two boys back to life, who had been murdered and stuffed in a pickle barrel.